Taking care of a baby while trying to shower daily is hard enough. Keeping track of developmental milestones and knowing when to worry is another job in itself. Plus, online forums, news stories and well-intentioned loved ones often muddy the waters further with questionable information and advice.
Researching and vetting that information can take some time—and you're just trying to figure out how to sleep for more than three hours at a time. That’s why we spoke to Dr. Robin Baweja, a Toronto-based pediatrician who helped us parse through common milestone myths so you don’t have to.
In many cultures, it’s a common belief that girls will develop faster than boys. Dr. Baweja says that “Boys and girls have the sustainability to reach the same milestones. They may have different temperaments, but there aren’t too many milestones I can think of that a girl has a better or faster chance of reaching than a boy.”
A study on crawling expectations from the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology explains that boy and girl infants showed relatively no differences in fine motor skills.
For whatever reason, parents continue to believe their child must walk by 12 months and that walking after one is late. The truth is only a few children can walk by 12 months.
Per Dr. Baweja, “Pediatricians expect a child that's 12 months old to be sitting upright, pulling to stand and cruising, but not walking and taking unassisted steps.”
Physical issues and potential infections are of concern to parents, but autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also issues parents understandably want to screen for.
They may notice a lack of eye contact within the first few months and start worrying about whether or not they should screen their baby.
“From a development standpoint, the first standardized screening tool we use for autism is at 18 months,” explains Dr. Baweja. “It’s called the M-CHAT. 18 months is usually when parents start to see red flags. But if parents are voicing concerns before the 18-month mark, I definitely try to reassure them because that is probably too early to assess.”
This myth may exist because daycares often pressure parents into ensuring their children are toilet-trained before enrolling their child into a program. Toilet-training a child by the age of two or three may simplify a parent, babysitter or caretaker’s routine but it may not be realistic.
According to Dr. Baweja, “Most bladder and bowel control doesn't actually happen until kids are three. If a child is potty-trained by age four they’re within the normal range. Don't be discouraged if your kid takes a little bit longer. That’s a normal part of development.”
Parents of more than one child often compare their children—especially if they’re twins or other multiples. Dissimilar development is normal in siblings and is nothing to worry about.
“What’s important”, says Dr. Baweja, “is that children are within age-appropriate ranges in their development even if their paths vary.”
That being said, do bring up any concerns or red flags you notice. Pediatricians are there to help you take care of your child and reassure you when there are no problems. They deal with children every day, can provide you with tools, and refer you elsewhere if needed.
Some children may still reach development milestones two to three months later than established guidelines and still be perfectly healthy, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or bring up concerns.
“18 months is usually a good age to assess real development,” says Dr. Baweja. This is when pediatricians will closely look at walking, coordination and other abilities. Even so, keep in mind that there may be reasonable explanations for why some children take longer to reach their milestones.
Common reasons for later development in some children include genetic conditions, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or a surgery early in life.
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